Updated plans and time frames for the replacement of the century-old Annisquam River rail bridge will be front and center Thursday when state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr hosts a Gloucester public forum with representatives of the MBTA.
The Annisquam River Drawbridge has been slated for a complete replacement, with the MBTA aiming to put the estimated $31 million "full replacement" project out to bid by this fall.
Bridge designs by Boston-based Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, carried out at a cost of about $2.5 million, are reportedly 60 percent complete, according to a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, prompting Tarr to call for a public meeting.
The meeting also comes after another precautionary bridge episode in which Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail officials opted to keep the bridge in the lowered position last Friday, blocking boat traffic into and out of Gloucester Harbor from 1:15 p.m. Friday until Saturday morning.
The MBCR, which runs the commuter rail service for the MBTA. feared that, if the bridge were opened, the "extreme heat" of the day — when temperatures ranged into the 90s — would cause the bridge to expand to a point where it could not be closed again, a result that would have shut it down to rail traffic, according to spokesman Scott Farmelant. The meeting is not connected to the closure, officials said.
The bridge was identified in a 2010 safety study as being in the worst shape of all commuter rail bridges in the MBTA system.
The drawbridge has since been at the center of a succession of issues, such as Friday's closing, since a temporary, one-afternoon shutdown in January. Officials in that case set a speed limit of 10 mph on the bridge when it reopened hours after closing for emergency repairs. Two weeks later, plans that had initially called for repairs emerged for the bridge's full replacement.
The public meeting will be held at Gloucester High School's auditorium Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The meeting will include a presentation of the most recent bridge plans, an outline of the replacement schedule, and a question-and-answer session that will provide an opportunity for community members to participate, according to Tarr.
Crews are expected to take some 17 months to carry out the bridge replacement, which will be done by rotating trains between its two tracks — keeping one track and thus rail service open throughout the work period.
In the meantime, the bridge will continue to be monitored and maintained to keep it safely operating throughout the process, Tarr said.
"The important thing is the MBTA is telling us they won't have to close it," Tarr said Tuesday in a phone interview.
This meeting is the first in what will likely be a series of public informational meetings among Tarr, state transportation officials and Cape Ann commuters and other residents.
Tarr said he has been speaking regularly with state transportation officials and expects the project to "stay on target" after the public meeting.
"We have communications almost on a weekly basis about this to make sure that it does stay focused," Tarr said. "I will be concerned about this project until we cut the ribbon on the new bridge."
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Public hearing on plans for the Annisquam River rail bridge
When: Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Gloucester High School's auditorium .
Why: Presented will be the most recent bridge plans, an outline of the replacement schedule, and a question-and-answer session between officials and the public.